A shrinking workforce, even as the U.S. population continues to grow and age. A state considered one of the most unhealthy by the Centers for Disease Control. And, thanks unfortunately to the COVID-19 pandemic, a dawning realization of the critical role that public health practitioners play in improving the wellbeing of our communities.
Whether it be the response to infectious diseases or the quality of the air and water, public health experts are crucial to keeping communities safe, but their ultimate goal is ensure they are thriving.
UNLV’s School of Public Health is focused on addressing this challenge by strengthening Nevada’s public health workforce. The School of Public Health is one of only 76 in the world accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health and was the first in the state to be accredited.
Brian Labus, an assistant professor and expert in epidemiology and biostatistics, said the best part of working in public health is being able to make a difference. He should know. He served as the state’s principal investigator for Nevada’s contact tracing program as the state faced COVID-19 and oversaw UNLV’s student-run contact tracing team.
“If you want to finish your day and look in the mirror and be very proud of what you did, it’s a great profession to go into because that’s what we do; we spend our time trying to make the world better for everyone else,” he emphasized.
What Can You Do with a Degree in Public Health?
The job outlook for the public health industry as a whole is strong. In 2021, the White House announced a $7.4 billion investment aimed at recruiting public health workers and expanding the local and state public health departments. The funding is expected to create tens of thousands of public health jobs.
The salaries and job growth of public health workers vary widely depending on the position. For example, average annual wages in 2021 for social and community service managers was $74,000; statisticians $95,570; and epidemiologists $78,830. All of these occupations are expected to grow by 12%, 32%, and 28% respectively by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Public health career options are almost endless due to the field’s broad scope, and the field attracts students from all walks of life. Students can enter the master’s degree in public health program with an undergraduate degree from any field.
“I would say to find something you’re really passionate about and it will probably overlap with public health,” Labus said. “There’s an entire field of public health informatics, where you take those data skills and use them in the context of public health. Or you could enjoy doing fieldwork where you’re collecting specimens and doing lab testing; there are jobs in public health for that, too.”
Why Pursue a Master's in Public Health?
A UNLV master’s degree prepares graduates for careers conducting research, evaluating programs and policies, designing outreach programs, working in community health centers, or providing health education.
“The best teams that I’ve been part of have brought people together from a lot of different backgrounds,” Labus said. “But your background, your history, your experience is all different, and that all comes together to allow you to do something to help the public.”
In addition to healthcare settings, careers exist in private companies, non-profit organizations, and in government agencies. Some of the many fields of public health include: epidemiologist, health educator, occupational health and safety professional, public policymaker, health and wellness manager, and biostatistician.
Changing the World
Nevada’s next generation of public health leaders are receiving invaluable hands-on experience and training before they even enter the workforce through the public health school.
A great example: UNLV's COVID-19 contact tracing team, led by 15 public health graduate students. The team investigated one out of every six cases in Clark County in an effort to monitor and control the spread of the virus.
Recently named the Program of the Year by the Nevada Public Health Association, the team grew from a handful of volunteer students to nearly 240 paid contact tracers who spoke 29 different languages.
Public health Ph.D. student Casey Barber said, “I have learned so much about public health response — in particular, the importance of planning and problem-solving — and I also gained confidence in my leadership abilities."
Many of the students from that team have gone on to full-time positions and, Labus said, they attribute it to their training at UNLV to landing their new positions. “It's sad to see them go, but it's quite gratifying to know that those students are in that much demand.”
- No GRE/MCAT required for MPH program
- First accredited school of public health in Nevada
- Master's program available online
Community Partnerships and Scholarship Opportunities
The School of Public Health has created an environment rich in research and scholarship opportunities, many of which support its mission of eliminating health disparities among underserved populations.
Financial Support for Internships
Its partnership with the Nevada Minority Health & Equity Coalition (NMHEC), which is housed at UNLV, is at the forefront of addressing health issues affecting the state’s most vulnerable populations. The partnership helps provide financial support for public health students working on their internships.
Additionally, the school brought in more than $7 million in grants and gifts in 2022, which helps students pursue their research interests while gaining practical training experience.
A new scholarship program, the Anthem Scholars Program, was recently added to the school’s roster of 15 scholarships. Established in collaboration with NMHEC, the program helps culturally and linguistically diverse public health students fund their internship.
Brandon Bucher, a public health graduate student in the epidemiology and biostatistics track, was one of just eight students to be selected as an Anthem Scholar in the first cohort in 2022.
For his internship, Bucher conducted a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis for the COVID-19 response in the epidemiology and informatics department of the Southern Nevada Health District.
“I compiled this data into a report so that in the future SNHD could take away from this and hopefully improve on future large-scale disease outbreak [response],” he explained. Bucher’s report also includes data about underrepresented communities, such as minorities with language barriers.
The internships provide students with valuable practical experience as they develop skills while working alongside experienced public health professionals. It also provides opportunities to network with and gain perspective on the profession from people outside the academic setting.
Anthem Scholars receive a $2,000 award which helps them complete their internship with a community organization. The program expects to help 100 students over the next five years.
New Scholarship Program
The school recently received $1.5 million from the Heath Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to provide scholarships in the next three years. These scholarships will support undergraduate students looking to continue their education through the school's master's programs.
In 2021, the school’s alumni association launched an inaugural scholarship campaign and presented its first award last spring to public health doctoral student Emylia Terry. The association hopes to grow this program so that it will exist in perpetuity.
For more in more information, visit the UNLV School of Public Health website, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 702-895-5090.